The Run It Back series is a new feature that will be written weekly during the 2020 football season. Whoever the Hokies are playing in the upcoming week, we will run it back and take a look at one of the previous meetings between the two squads, chatting with a member from the team who made a big impact in the game.
The true character of an individual and a football team can often be found in times of adversity. Following Virginia Tech’s mind-numbing loss to Liberty last Saturday, many have counted the Hokies out.
In fact, this is familiar territory for Virginia Tech, and seemingly every time the team finds itself in this position the upcoming opponent is Miami.
“It’s an interesting trend in the history of Virginia Tech football since [Frank] Beamer and even [Justin] Fuente have been at the helm,” former Virginia Tech offensive lineman Dwight Vick (1994-1998) said in a phone interview this week. “Miami has been that team who when we’re on the ropes we end up playing next.”
It happened last year when the Hokies responded to the beatdown against Duke by going to Miami and defeating the Hurricanes in Hendon Hooker’s first start. In 2011, Virginia Tech was manhandled by Clemson before bouncing back and defeating Miami on Logan Thomas’ game-winning touchdown run. It was the same deal in 2003 when the Hokies were coming off a disappointing loss to West Virginia, only to pummel No. 2 Miami 31-7 the following week.
The first instance of that trend actually began back in 1995 when Beamer’s squad started the season 0-2.
“At that time we had a horrific and an embarrassing loss in a rainstorm,” Vick said. “We lost to Cincinnati at home 16-0, and it was a bad loss. I remember the boos in Lane Stadium.”
Still, it was one of the biggest learning moments for Vick, then a redshirt freshman and backup left guard to Chris Malone. As a younger player on the team, Vick was questioning the direction of the program and wondering how the veteran players would respond.
He didn’t have to wait too long.
“We had a players-only meeting,” Vick said. “Even right after the game, J.C. Price and Jim Baron were saying, ‘We better stay together. Don’t let any outside noise get into this locker room. We’re brothers.’ It was emotional and they spoke before the coaches. That’s the kind of leaders they were and that’s why you always see me tweet about leadership. It was just amazing to see. They prophesied it was going to happen. Jim Baron said in a players-only meeting on Friday night, ‘We just have to step up and make plays and we’re going to run the table. We’re not going to lose another game.’”
Despite the leadership that was exhibited, the Hokies still had a tall task ahead of them. Waiting in the wings was a ranked Miami squad led by Ray Lewis. This was also a Miami team that Virginia Tech had never beaten. In a series that had dated back to 1953, the Hurricanes were 12-0 against the Hokies up to that point.
However, Virginia Tech came out with a mean streak and took it to Miami. In a physical ballgame, the Hokies ran the ball 49 times for 300 yards. Dwayne Thomas carried the rock 24 times for 165 yards and a touchdown. The defensive side of the ball played lights out, including Price, who backed up his talk with 11 tackles and 4.0 sacks in the game en route to Virginia Tech’s 13-7 win.
“I just remember beating Miami and the euphoria around campus after the game,” Vick said. “The nostalgia. Seeing fans tear down the goalpost and carry it around the drillfield. We were so physical. Dwayne Thomas and Ken Oxendine ran it down their throat. It was just special to be a part of.
“For me, being a freshman and a backup lineman, I just was more impressed not with the win, but with the leadership. It just really taught me so much on when my time was going to come, how I should lead and how I should live my life. That’s the impact that those seniors had on me.”
It set in motion a string of 10 straight victories, culminating in the Sugar Bowl triumph over Texas. Beyond that, it sent notice that Virginia Tech could compete on the national level with Miami.
In 1996 and 1997, the Hokies beat the Hurricanes for three consecutive wins in the series. The 1996 win was highlighted by the late Keion Carpenter’s 100-yard interception late in the fourth when Miami was looking to tie the game. It took some late game defensive heroics in 1997 as well, as Pierson Prioleau intercepted the two-point conversion pass from Ryan Clement with 1:48 remaining to preserve the 27-25 win.
Surely Virginia Tech couldn’t beat Miami four times in a row, and in the old Orange Bowl again, could they? This was a time when Butch Davis was making headwaves in the recruiting game by signing a handful of uber-talented players.
“I remember warming up and I remember seeing so many legendary players, Hall of Fame players on the sideline,” Vick said. “I just remember seeing so many guys. You couldn’t get caught up in the mystique. It was sold out and it was the old Orange Bowl. You had a young Ed Reed on the team. Dan Morgan, Edgerrin James, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Nate Webster. That’s when you saw the U. That’s when you knew Butch Davis had those guys back and they were amped up for that game.”
Miami came out of the gates firing on all cylinders and took a 13-3 lead behind touchdown passes to Moss and Wayne. Al Clark connected with Cullen Hawkins right before the half to make it a 3-point game. Clark proceeded to run it in for a 12-yard score and give the Hokies their first lead of the game in the third quarter.
After a back-and-forth fourth quarter, the usually consistent Shayne Graham had a chance to win it for Virginia Tech, but his 35-yard field goal sailed wide right. In overtime, the Hokies received the ball first and Rickey Bustle sent in the play call on second-and-long. Clark lofted it up to Ricky Hall, and the wide receiver came down with it over the Miami defender for the touchdown.
The defense smelled blood in the water and sacked the Hurricanes’ Scott Covington on the first two plays to open the drive. His fourth-and-17 attempt fell incomplete, and the Hokies escaped from the Orange Bowl with a fourth straight victory over Miami.
“Beamer kept us composed,” Vick said. “Back then, I don’t know if the newer fans understand this, but back then, winning at Miami at that time was very difficult. It was very difficult to win there. ‘96 and ‘98, that’s the old Orange Bowl. It was before they went to the Pro Player Stadium environment. It was just special.
“I remember this, and Beamer was a humble winner, but me, Derek Smith, Lorenzo Ferguson, Shyrone Stith, Andre Davis, so many guys, probably the entire team, we ran to their sideline and said, ‘That’s four in a row! Y’all can’t beat us.’ We were holding up the four and they were hot.”
The Miami Rivalry
For the longest time, Miami refused to acknowledge Virginia Tech as a rival. The Hurricanes only saw Florida State and even Florida to a degree as their main rivals. However, when the Hokies began beating them and rattled off five consecutive wins from 1995-1999, that all began to change.
“It was great because at that time and even now, they had the name,” Vick said. “Virginia Tech earned the name, but Miami earned the right to have all that hype and they earned the right to be Miami and The U. It was great to play them. You saw the same reaction when Tyrod [Taylor] and them beat them his senior year when he scored that run and threw up the U in the endzone and got the penalty. That’s what Miami brought out of Tech, and I think they made us a better program.”
Miami was supposed to be the darling of the Big East, but now the Hokies were spoiling the party. As a result, the rivalry was chock-full of fierce battles from the late 90’s and into the early-to-mid 2000’s.
“Miami was one of the top tier programs and they had the pageantry, tradition and history,” Vick said. “Virginia Tech wanted a piece of that. They wanted a place at that table. They made us up our game. They always had the NFL players and all the hype, but we would come into their stadium or they would play us and we’d match them.”
Virginia Tech started to earn respect in the midst of those back-and-forth battles against Miami. Years after his playing career, one comment during a broadcast clued Vick in that the Hokies were just starting to get the due diligence owed to them.
“It was Bob Griese, I think it was the year Virginia Tech beat Miami in 2004, their inaugural year in the ACC,” Vick said. “[Griese] said, ‘If you look at both teams and you took the uniform and switched them, they would look exactly the same.’ I’m paraphrasing, but that’s when I knew Virgnia Tech had arrived in 2004 because we always knew that as players. I would tell the current players that is what this game means.
“I would tell the young guys that the Miami-Virginia Tech rivalry might be bigger than the UVA-Virginia Tech rivalry, and to many of the guys before them it was. To beat Miami still means something. I would tell them they need to approach it with that same mentality that they approach playing UVA.”
The 2020 Hokies
The million-dollar question is how Virginia Tech rights the ship this year versus Miami. Vick notes that many things won’t be fixed this season in terms of schematic changes and internal operations due to COVID-19 and contact tracing. However, he wants to see more urgency out of the team.
“I get passionate about it because this is the only program I’m emotionally invested in. Tech is my home,” Vick said. “I love Virginia Tech. I get emotional thinking about it. When I set aside four hours of my day to watch a program I helped build like all those guys you watched play, it means so much to us. Yeah, we’re going to be a little outspoken about a miscalled timeout or guys that look flat.”
Beyond that, Vick draws from his own experiences back in 1995 when facing a similar situation.
“Virginia Tech needs someone and some guys to step up as leaders,” Vick said. “Fuente can talk. He can get Bruce Smith to come in and speak. He can get T.D. Jakes and Dr. Phil and have prayers and fires and bonfires, but the reality is, that may sound humorous and all jokes aside, you need someone within the program to step up.
“One thing that’s never changed the game of life or sports in general, especially in football, is leadership. Hooker cannot be the only leader. Tre Turner has to lead. [Divine] Deablo has to lead. When I say lead, I mean when a team is flat, you don’t see the – and we don’t have all the camera angles – but you don’t see anything on the sideline where the guys are bringing everyone together the way Chris Ellis and D.J. Parker and Vince Hall did.
“You can not dismiss the fact that when you watch Virginia Tech play, they sometimes just look like they’re playing and not playing with that purpose that made Virginia Tech football the best brand in Virginia. That’s what’s missing.”
Last year, the Hokies got exactly that in the resurgent 42-35 triumph over Miami. Hooker led the troops in his first career start and Reggie Floyd kept the team juiced on defense. Can Virginia Tech replicate that formula in 2020? Under Fuente, the Hokies have not beaten a top 10 opponent. There’s no better time than the present for that to change against No. 9 Miami.
“You can beat Miami and truth be told, despite the embarrassing loss to LIberty that we will never forget for the rest of our natural-born lives, you can still stay competitive in the ACC,” Vick said. “You’re only 4-2. You’re right there. I would tell the team if I was addressing them, we have been since my time another team’s and program’s signature win. Can we start getting some signature wins under this Fuente regime within conference? Let’s get us a historic run.
“Keep this in mind in the ‘95 season, it’s special because we were 0-2 and we looked like trash. Nobody in the world thought a team that just got beat 16-0 by Cincinnati at home would turn around and beat a Miami ranked team led by Ray Lewis. Don’t tell me it can’t happen this weekend, and they can go on a run. The reality is those guys who put the helmets on have to believe it.”